Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chapter 21b: Sea and Sunlight

The Piet's heart thudded in his chest. His arms burned and throbbed with fatigue while his lungs spasmed with the desire for a gasp of air. The faint shimmering light above him disappeared in a cloud of bubbles. If it weren't for the beast still pushing against him he would have thought himself dead. I'm at the gateway of Vaspar, mere moments from ascending into his awaiting arms. If I can only hold this demon spawn off me for another second or two...

Sparks drifted across the blackness as his oxygen starved body began to betray him. His lungs convulsed, trying to draw a breath, but he locked his arms in place and fought against it. The creature thrashed and pushed, sliding Piet Lithor back and forth in the chilling water. He opened his mouth to scream, to draw in air, to end this hopeless struggle when the creature suddenly stiffened and pulled its head up, drawing the priest with it. He gasped air in a spray of liquid as he broke the surface of the water. The creature convulsed at arms length before becoming stiff and falling over on its side.

Coughing and sputtering, Piet Lithor ran both hands along the floor, his chin and nose poking out of the water. He had to find the sword and do it fast before the monster got up, or the zombies reached him. His hands slid right and left, scraping the abrasive surface. The water gurgled and churned in his ear. He felt the dead approach with every splash. An inner voice screamed, just leave the sword and run, but leaving the sword wasn't an option. The blade belonged to Lord Vaspar and he would gladly die before leaving it behind.

His hand brushed smooth steel. He pulled the sword up by the blade and stood, facing the sloshing mass of bodies moving toward him. He backed up and grabbed the blade by its hilt. Something brushed his leg. With a scream he turned around to face the new threat. He swung the sword into empty space. Something brushed his leg again and moaned. He reached down and felt flesh, warm flesh. Rachelle?

He grabbed a bracelet bound wrist and pulled up a limp arm, another moan, female. Without a doubt that the unconscious body lying before him was Rachelle, he lifted her up and slung her over his shoulder.

A hand grasped his arm. Water sprayed as he swung around with his sword. Flesh connected with steel and the liquid before him became a convulsing quiver as the undead thrashed and flopped in front of him. Without waiting Piet Lithor turned and sloshed through the dark, toward the exit.

He didn't walk far before his hand grazed the rock wall of the cavern. He shifted Rachelle on his shoulder then started forward, moving through the water and darkness as swiftly as he safely could. Within moments the splashing sound of pursuit began to fall further into the background. By the time a faint glow starts to appear ahead of him the splashes could barely be heard.

A fresh sea breeze tickled his nose as he stumbled ahead, just ahead he could hear the surf as it crashed against rock. His legs pumped harder, the crack in the rock became brighter with every step. Sea gulls called in the distance.

"Piet?" The Duke's voice.

A silhouette against sunlight waded through the water from the cave opening and pulled Rachelle from his shoulder. He hadn't realized how sore and tired he had become until her weight was taken away.

"Is she okay?"

Sliding his sword into the sheath at his side, he frowned. "I don't know. Something happened while I fought against that wolfhound creature. I found her like this as I retreated."

Piet Lithor squinted and brought his hand to his eyes as they walked through the crack in the rock, the morning sunlight striking him full in the face. To his left, waves crashed against porous black rock. Sea gulls glided through the air above them. A fishing vessel sat anchored to the south, bouncing up and down in the rolling surf. The survivors stood crowded to the side as Stiles and the other soldiers helped them climb a ladder to board the vessel. At the top of the ladder Shannai pulled them over the side, her flamboyant shirt dirty and dishelved. Her equally grimy brother stood at the helm, waiting to turn the ship to sea.

The Duke sped his pace to the boat. "The it still alive?"

"I don't think so. I believe Madame Rachelle killed it before...before she became incapacitated. The dead are just behind me though."

The Duke nodded to the priest then turned to the people boarding the ship. "Let's hurry up folks. We are about to have some unwelcome company."

Duke Renier was the last to board the ship as the dead stumbled from the crack in the rock, wobbling like newborn calves as the waves hit them and the current pulled the water back out to sea.

An arrow flew through the air; piercing a bald man's dead eye in a spray of dark red and dropping him face down into the water. The Duke looked over his shoulder where Shannai stood on the deck, bow in hand and a fierce look upon her face.

With a shake of his head he yelled, "Let's pull the anchor and drop the sails."

As the soldiers followed his orders he looked to the south, where he could a stretch of Renier's wall shone just around the rocks. With a heavy heart he walked to the helm to help Marchas locate a safe port.

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Chapter 21a: The Priest and the Beast

…and Jovias looked to the light, knowing that it was holy and righteous. His spirit told him to move forward, but his thoughts pulled him back, whispering to him that righteousness is not without its cost. To live in the light meant obeying the rules and dictates of the holy, but to succumb to the darkness would give him eternal freedom.

~Parable of Jovias, the Never Dying

Rachelle stood while pale arms, groping fingers, and grey faces bounce and swing in the dim light as the small army of undead worked their way towards the little group of survivors. Wellan marched with them, or what once had been Wellan. He had the true eyes of a corpse now, the slack mouth of someone who no longer breaths, the grasping fingers of starving desire.

A roar pulled her focus from the dead flesh. The wolfhound pushed itself off the floor, his rage replaced by intelligent instinct. A hunter looked out of its milky eyes as it strutted across the cavern, toward the retreating survivors.

Piet Lithor yanked her arm, pulling her to the exit. The Duke stood between her and the undead, the rearguard position. Splashing resounded from further up the tunnel. Stiles coaxed the survivors to keep running, yellow light flickered and danced as he retreated further into the watery exit.

Lithor yelled, "Go, my Duke. Catch up with the others. My sword and Madame Rachelle's magic will keep them at bay."

The Duke opened his mouth to protest, but the priest stopped him. "You can't help us now. This battle will take faith and magic. Go. Trust us."

Duke Renier's nostrils flared wide, an inner turmoil took place that finally saw reason. With a nod of his head he squeezed the Piet's shoulder and splashed through the water, chasing the yellow flicker on the damp walls that receded a little more every second.

The priest turned to the wolfhound and swung his sword through empty air, threatening the beast to come any closer. The monster remained a sword-length away, pacing itself as they stumbled through the water, waiting for an opportunity to attack, an opening that it could use to its advantage. The dead advanced behind the creature, a wall of pale arms and grasping fingers.

Now Rachelle pulled the priest through the tunnel as he walked backward with the sword held before him. She tried to bring forth the power of her magic, but it only fizzled and sputtered within her, a glowing ember where there once raged a burning fire. Too much energy had been expended in her first two attacks. It would be a while before she could call it forth again with any effect. Rachelle didn't have the heart to tell Lithor.

With each swing of the priest's sword the beast came a hair’s width closer, the ranks on the dead close upon the creatures heals. She didn't think the dead would approach the sword, but the wolfhound didn't seem to have the same aversion. He paced left and right, always moving forward, waiting for any opening.

The dancing light and splashing of water faded to nothing as the survivors outdistanced her and Lithor. They stood alone before the undead nightmare.

With a cry the Piet tripped and fell on his back. Rachelle reached out to catch him, but missed, fingers grazing his robe as he went down with a splash.

A triumphant roar filled the cave as the wolfhound lunged forward, just in time to catch Lithor as his sputtering head broke the surface of the thigh deep water. Teeth flashed. The priest’s arms struck out, grabbing the monster by its matted neck, stopping the creature in mid lunge. The water churned and boiled as the priest held the creature back. Just behind them the dead advanced.

Rachelle screamed as she dove forward, one hand raking the rough stone three feet below the water while the other held the torch up over her head. Cold, salty water splashed against her cheek and chin as her hand groped for the metal blade.

Piet Lithor screamed then gurgled as the beast pushed against the hands that held him, shoving the overweight priest under the water.

Knowing she no longer had time to find the sword she stood. She dropped the torch, with a hiss and a splash, to grasp the monster by its ears. In the blink of an eye the tunnel became black. The desperate watery struggle taking place at the end of her hand and the wiry hair were the only things in the void. She pulled and yanked at the beast, but it did no good. With an echoing shriek she pulled up her power, every little spark that ember of power could produce and sent it surging into her palms. Wild magic ran from one hand to the next, crossing the barrier of flesh and fur to slam together in the center of the monsters skull.

She felt the creature lurch and convulse just before her consciousness retreated to the void.

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